Citizens will better understand where their tax dollars are being spent under a budget transparency ordinance unanimously adopted today by the Metropolitan King County Council that requires a dramatically greater level of detail in the presentation and reporting of the annual county budget, according to a release from King County.
“Budget transparency is critical, especially in times of deep fiscal challenges,"said Council member Bob Ferguson, chair of the committee of the whole and prime sponsor of the ordinance. "Policy makers and citizens need to know where every dollar is going. This legislation provides the public with a greater level of detail about county spending and ensures that citizens’ priorities are being met.”
“Transparency has the effect of holding policy makers accountable,” said ordinance co-sponsor council member Reagan Dunn. “If people can see what their money is spent on, they have more faith in their government. That is something that is surely lacking among our citizens at this time.”
Pending sales around Western Washington for the month of March reached the highest level in six months, according to the latest figures from Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
Compared to February, last month’s pending sales (offers made and accepted, but not yet closed) surged 25 percent, rising from 4,559 transactions to 5,701. Last month’s volume was down 5.6 percent when compared to a year ago, but it was the highest monthly total since September when brokers reported 5,982 pending sales.
Inventory fell sharply from a year ago (down more than 14 percent), in part due to fewer new listings being added to the supply, according to the listing service. Member brokers added 10,252 new listings during March, compared with 13,274 for the same month a year ago, for a drop of nearly 23 percent.
At month-end, there were 39,825 active listings of single family homes and condominiums in the listing service database, a decline of 14.1 percent from the year-ago total of 46,358 listings. The total includes 33,083 single family homes and 6,742 condominiums in 19 counties.
A new revenue forecast for the city reflects the nation’s worsening economy, projecting $29.5 million less revenue in the city’s general fund for 2009, compared to last year’s forecast, a 3.7 percent drop.
“We have anticipated that revenues would be down and this latest forecast confirms the size of the problem," said Mayor Greg Nickels in a release issued today. "As we make difficult budget cuts, I will continue to put a priority on maintaining funding for public safety and direct human services."
The latest forecast revises estimates made in November 2008, adjusting for what has become a major recession nationwide and a severe regional downturn. Led by a decline in revenue from sales taxes and business and occupation taxes, the revised forecast for 2009 represents a 3.7 percent drop, according to the mayor's office.
This month, the mayor will consult with city council members on cuts that can be implemented beginning in May to bring the 2009 budget into balance. In anticipation of the lower revenue forecast, in February the mayor directed city departments to identify potential 2009 general fund reductions of up to 3 percent.
Last week, I wrote about the cuts our state budget is facing and that we would be releasing our Senate budget proposal sometime this week, and the House would release its proposal shortly after that.
I have learned in my years down in Olympia that everything during our legislative sessions is subject to change, and our budget roll-out has proven to be no different. As I told you last week, our latest revenue forecast reduced our expected tax collections by another $500 million. With this news, we needed just a little bit more time balance our budget – now facing a $9 billion shortfall.
Our operating budget will now be released to the public Monday at 10:30 a.m. That afternoon at 3:30 p.m., the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed budget in Senate Hearing Room 4 in the John A. Cherberg building. The hearing will continue on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the same location if more time is needed to hear public testimony.
We are now finishing the 16th month of the recession, which began in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Not only is this a long recession, but it’s also a severe one, marked by painfully high levels of job losses, a sharply reduced credit flow and a drop in the value of many investments.
Still, despite all the bad news, there are valid reasons to believe that brighter days lie ahead. But you don’t have to wait for things to turn around before taking steps to help your own financial future.
Here are some actions to consider:
Don’t cut back on your 401(k).
The Ballard Food Bank has done their part by assisting those who are struggling in these hard economic times and in return for their hard work they have been named the 2009 winner of Food Lifeline’s “Agency Excellence Award” for Excellence in Food Resource Development.
For their achievement they have been awarded $5,000 to continue expanding its mission, and to increase and better its capabilities to serve the hungry people in the Ballard community.
Food Lifeline presented the Agency Excellence Awards at its Annual Agency Conference in Shoreline, on Monday March 24. The conference hosts expert leaders from Food Lifeline’s 300 member agencies all throughout Western Washington, connecting with each other, opening channels of communication and highlighting their successes.
As the Excellence in Food Resource Development award-winner, Ballard Food Bank demonstrated its exemplary approaches to ending hunger through its efforts to develop food programs and strengthen donor relations, according to the Food Lifeline. The winning best practices included creating a new avenue to distribute food with the Mobile Distribution Project.
Gov. Chris Gregoire forecasted growth in the Seattle shipping industry in response to the 2009 Marine Cago Forecast. She spoke at a press conference at Todd Shipyards, about one mile due east of Alki's Seacrest Park, on Harbor Island.
The forecast projects 20 years ahead, and shows growth from 2.9 million containers in 2007 to 9.7 million containers in 2030.
"The forecast gives hope to our economy to jobs that could come to Seattle," said Gregoire. "This is a message of opportunity. We will have a chance to provide waterfront and freight jobs which are good family wage jobs."
Gregoire pointed out that the state must keep up infrastructure to stay competitive with Canadian, California, and East Coast ports.
"The Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate ships twice the size that now enter," said the governor. "That means more Asian cargo ships will have a more direct route and may bypass Seattle, and instead pass through the canal and use harbors in the East Coast."
The Panama Canal project is scheduled to be finished in five years.
Amongst the number of apartments and condos popping up in Ballard, Ballard Apartments, LLC, an affiliate of the Pacific Northwest division of Trammell Crow Residential, has announced the completion of its construction of Leva on Market apartments.
The new 260-unit apartment building is located on the south side of Market Street between 15th and 17th avenues.
One building is eight stories, while the other is six stories tall above an underground parking garage.
Trammell Crow expects residents to begin moving in the 22 studios, 162 one-bedrooms, 67 two-bedrooms and nine live-work lofts, this month.
The new housing is also accompanied with an outdoor plaza and ground-floor retail space along Market Street.
“These new apartment homes will offer residents the opportunity to live in the first new luxury apartment community to be created in Ballard in almost 20 years,” said Sean G. Hyatt, managingin director of TCR’s local office in a news release.
Other recent condo and apartment developments like Hjarta and Canal Station II, both condos in Ballard, still have open units in their buildings.
Though Seattle's housing and economic situation are not good, it's not as dire as some parts of the country, said experts in the industries at a panel discussion in front of the Seattle City Council Monday.
Susan Greenwald, director of single-family operations at Homestreet Bank, said nationally the percentage of homes either in foreclosure or with loans in delinquency is roughly just below 12 percent. In Washington State, it's 6.58 percent.
While it's better than the national average, Greenwald said she has never seen numbers that high in Seattle during her 30 years in the business.
"We have some real challenges ahead," she said.
Greenwald spoke with four other panelists from 10 a.m to noon, March 23 at a special council briefing titled,“The State of the Regional Economy: A Panel Discussion Among Local Experts," chaired by council president Richard Conlin.
Greenwald attributes the state's lower number to less mortgage fraud against lenders here than other parts of the nation, such as Michigan.
Last week we received more devastating, albeit expected, news. Our national recession and our state’s rapidly increasing unemployment rate, now at 8.4 percent, the highest our state has faced since 1987, have significantly reduced our tax collections.
The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s latest forecast projects our historic revenue shortfall to a daunting $9 billion — a quarter of our state’s budget. This figure represents the gap between our current budget commitments in education, health care, public safety and environmental protections and the revenues needed to support these commitments. This shortfall is higher than any witnessed in modern times and is among our nation’s most severe.
In fact, if we eliminated all state funding for our total state’s correctional system, our total higher education system, all the care for our seniors, and all the care for those with developmental disabilities — all those cuts combined would not bridge our shortfall.